Beginner’s Guide

Beginners Guide, by Steve Hornby.

There are no hard and fast rules in ” How to….? ” for Lovebirds. The following ideas can be applied as generalisations and not things that must be adhered to. Working out your own solutions is always more rewarding.

After that initial rush of blood when newcomers want to breed each and every type of Lovebird, it’s time to sit back and work out a plan for future breeding. This plan should be to proceed along a certain line towards an achievable goal. Whether it be to produce a possible colour variation ie. Cremino to Silver Cherry to produce a lacewing/fallow type affect or Normal to Normal to produce a better class of bird, you need to have some direction.

A few good sized, quality birds to start with will give better stock to build on. Otherwise you will end up with a large number of just average offspring, too many to keep and nothing worthwhile. Quality avicultural achievements are not short-term projects and breeders you see with better class birds usually have taken many years to get there.

Where to get quality birds as a basis for your breeding stock?

Come along to the ALBS meetings, check out the Table Shows and especially the Annual Show to find out who’s breeding the particular type you plan to breed and make your self known to them.

Most exhibitors are only too pleased to help if you are interested in buying quality birds. To start with you can buy established pairs or better still obtain young birds that will be mature enough when the next breeding season arrives. Peachfaced should be at least 12 months old before being used to breed with and, from my experience Masked Lovebirds seem to make better parents when they are in their second year. That way you can put birds together over the summer to see if they are compatible

If buying young birds it is advisable to buy several of the one type, with more chance of getting a pair.

Lovebirds are often difficult to sex, although a wider gap in the space between the pelvic bones is a reasonable guide when trying to find a mature hen bird.DNA sexing is recommended for all Lovebirds to determine with certainty the sex of the birds.The ALBS has a discounted service for members or there are a number of Commercial services , such as DNA Solutions Pty Ltd .

When deciding on how many aviaries your yard or property can accommodate one major factor is often overlooked – space will always be needed for young birds when they are weaned from their parents. Overcrowding will result in killed or injured young birds or potential show birds with missing toes!

Always put birds of like age together. If you are adding new birds to your already established collection then it is advisable to keep these new birds in a separate location as these new birds may be affected by some virus or disease that could develop and be spread to the existing flock. It is recommended that this isolation be at least for a period of 45 days while administering treatment for worms etc.

What size aviary for how many birds?

For Peachfaced 3 pairs to an aviary 1.2m W x 1.8m H x 1.8m D is comfortable and for white eye-ring species 4 or 5 pairs in the same space seems to be about right. It’s better to have too much room than too little.

What materials should be used to construct an aviary?

All steel components are the best method, coupled with a concrete floor.

This type of construction allows for easy maintenance, as the floor can be swept every couple of weeks to remove loose material, seed husks etc. and at the end of the breeding season a scrub down of the walls & floor followed by a hose out.

Caution should be taken when using new galvanised wire as birds can suffer from zinc poisoning, usually contracted by their habit of chewing everything in site. Leaving the wire out in the weather for as long as possible before aviary construction allows the fresh galvanising to oxidise, reducing it’s harmful effect.

Another method is to scrub the wire with an acetic acid (vinegar and water) mix followed by a thorough hosing down. I tried this method but still lost a few birds, mainly because you still need to go over the whole area of wire and remove as many of the little dags of zinc that are left on the wire after the galvanising process.

Aviaries or cages should face north or east to offer protection from cooler West to South winds. Draughty aviaries usually don’t contain many birds for long.

The setting up of an aviary with respect to location of water, food etc needs some consideration before introducing birds for breeding. Keep perches as far apart as possible and not over food or water. My preferred set-up is nest boxes on a shelf at the back of the flight (covered section) with water and food (seed) opposite each other near the door so that intrusion into the aviary is as little as possible.

If the aviary roof does not cover the full flight then seed and water should be placed under cover to keep rain and the droppings of wild birds from causing contamination.

When putting several pairs together in a large aviary how can you get them to stay in the pairs that you want?

One way that mostly works for me is to put the pair together in a small cage away from other birds and a month or two before the breeding season. If compatible they will usually stay together when liberated into the larger aviary which should not have any single or unpaired birds.

Some might ask when is the breeding season?

Most bonded pairs will breed continually if not given a break. I personally prefer a breeding season from about March to October, as this is usually cooler weather which rarely sees young birds being ‘cooked’ in a nestbox during a heatwave.

This will also enable adult birds a short recovery period before our annual show, but still giving keen pairs the chance to have three rounds of young.

The birds’ owner also needs a rest from the continuum of providing additional food, nesting material, ringing young etc. Aviculture is much more rewarding if does not become a chore. Quality is better than quantity.

What type of nest box will Lovebirds nest in?

Nest boxes for Lovebirds vary in size from budgie boxes to small and medium parrot types and although most birds are not too fussy, a size somewhere in between will give them some room to move inside with a full clutch of young. A good size for white eyed species is 18cm x 18 cm x 24 cm high – internal dimension , made from thicker ply grades say 5 ply and for peach faced 22 cm x 22 cm x 25 cm high would be better . Whatever the size, keep all boxes the same so that whenever the need arises to remove a box the new one should not cause the owners to delay their return.

I’ve found that boxes placed at about chest height makes them easier to inspect without having to remove the box from the shelf.

Nesting material is usually subject to human preference rather than what the birds like and they don’t mind what they get.

Material that is green and contains some moisture will enhance the eggs’ hatchability. Palm fronds and the stalks of seeding grasses such as oats or Japanese millet are suitable and although kikuyu is frowned upon by many, I find that a few thick green pieces given during incubation will add some moisture to the nest.

The leaves (green & dried) of the Grass or Cabbage Palm (Cordyline Australis) have always been a favourite nesting material of Peachfaced. This material is very tough and makes for a good standing nest that does not easily flatten. Try tying together several of the long leaves and hang them from the wire. You’ll soon have birds climbing all over them eager to strip them for carrying to the nest.

Providing you have a true pair nest building should take place within a couple of weeks of introducing nest boxes into the aviary, although some pairs seem to need the stimulation of other pairs around them with young before they get started.

Number of eggs laid varies from 2 to 7 per nest laid every other day. Incubation usually takes about 22 days and starts from 2nd or 3rd egg laid. A check of the nest one week after last egg laid should reveal eggs that are fertile as being cloudy/dark pink in colour when held up to the light.

If you can see the yolk floating around inside then there could be a number of reasons for the egg’s infertility. Two hens will often act as a pair – build a nest and lay eggs etc., or if this is the first mating of either bird then they might need more practice before they get their act together.

What is the cause and what should I do about chicks that are dead in the shell?

It would seem that lack of moisture in the nest chamber results in young that are fully formed but fail to break free from the shell when the time comes.

I have always provided my birds with a large water dish (glazed terracotta is easy to clean) and only once have I had a problem and I suspect it was a genetic problem with a particular pair.

One trick to try for birds that continue to have young dead in the shell is to hang a jar full of water from the underside of the nest box with holes through into the nest chamber. This will increase the moisture content of the nesting material and help the chicks to break out.

Hen birds with access to large, open water dishes will often wet themselves before returning to the nest, hence maintaining the moisture content in the nest material.

I’m not sure that the stipulation that nest material provided must be green (fresh) because most grasses and palm leaves are well and truly dried out by the time the eggs should hatch.

What sort of seed mix do lovebirds like?

A Peachface or Small Parrot mix is available from most seed merchants or pet shops. A good mix should contain a balance of the nutritional requirements to keep birds in a healthy condition. Millets for carbohydrates, plain canary for protein and small quantities of hulled oats, sunflower and safflower.

There is some contention as to whether too much of oily seeds like sunflower are a cause of poor feather condition and/or feather loss, but I suspect that a vitamin deficiency and lack of exercise to be a more likely cause.

Depending on the lovebird species you keep you may like to offer different mixes for different species. I’ve found that Fischers mainly eat jap millet and plain canary with small quantities of white millet and some safflower, rarely touching sunflower or hulled oats. Masked will consume most seed types preferring additional oats when rearing young. Peachfaced have a similar preference but seem to give hulled oats a miss during the summer (non-breeding season).

As I don’t have a large number of birds (4 or 5 breeding pairs) I often make up my own mix with the basis being equal quantities of Jap millet and plain canary, more safflower than sunflower and small quantities of French white millet age. For those who have a lot of birds, there are a number of Commercial mixes on the market .

Seed alone does not provide all the necessary vitamin and mineral requirements for a balanced diet, so additional foods are required. Calcium plays a major part in the good health of birds as it provides strength to bones and beak in developing young as well as mature birds, and is beneficial to the formation of eggs when hen birds are nesting. Fortunately Lovebirds love cuttlefish, a good source of calcium. I also provide a constant supply of shell grit, grit that I have collected myself while holidaying on the South Coast. I give the grit unwashed as it contains minerals, iodine and salt, salt reputed to increase fertility.

What in the way of green food can be given?

This is an often asked question. I believe that greens should be given regularly (daily). In the wild, birds will be chewing on all manner of grasses, seeds, fruit etc. Why not provide them the same opportunity in captivity?

Greens can be put into two groups – leaf type, where most of the plant is consumed or seed type where only the seed heads are eaten. Of the leaf type the list can include – Spinach (English) ,Silver Beet, Endive,Celery,Dandelion (rich in vitamins) and Chickweed.

A small garden plot (1.5m x 0.5m) is all that is needed to provide a supply of spinach and endive, whereas dandelion and chickweed can usually be gathered from semi-shaded areas in local parks and along fence lines.

The other type of greens, the seed head type, are usually available from spring to the end of summer. These include Rye grass,Barnyard Grass,Panic Grass, several varieties of wild oats, numerous millets – wild and cultivated. Japanese millet is often used by land developers and RTA to stabilise newly cleared land and road embankments, usually providing large areas of ripe and semi-ripe seed heads which can be picked around the end of summer. In the past few seasons I have been able to fill a seed bag with ripe and dried seed heads which has lasted the whole breeding season.

If the summer is a late one, bunches of these Jap. millet plants provide excellent nesting material when hung in the aviary.

Care should be taken when gathering greens from areas other than your own property. Always wash them thoroughly, although it will be evident if a herbicide has been sprayed as the leaves wilt and brown off fairly quickly especially in warm weather.

Once chicks have hatched there are a number of other foods that can be given. From the time the first chick has hatched I supply multigrain bread at a rate of 1/2 a slice for each pair every morning. This the birds attack with relish and helps fill crops with additional nutrients and fats not contained in seed.

After a few days, corn on the cob is given. This can be either fresh, or fresh cobs which have been husked, cut up and frozen, then thawed in a microwave when required. I usually buy a large quantity (box) in summer when cheap at the markets and then clean and freeze them for later in the year when corn is more expensive and less available.

Greens can be increased after the first week and given twice daily (morning and night) when quantities are available and when daylight hours make it practicable. Lovebirds will also take small quantities of apple and during early winter when the berries of Cotoneaster, Hawthorn and Privet are ripe, small bunches are eagerly accepted, mainly for the seeds inside.

The development of large and healthy young birds is dependent upon a constant supply of additional food throughout the whole time they are in the nest and until they have been weaned from their parents.

Should I put rings on my Lovebirds?

The answer to this is always ‘yes’ from my point of view, although on very rare occasions a ring on a bird’s leg has resulted in an injury to that leg when the ring has caught on a piece of protruding wire.

For the future identification of a season’s young birds, rings with the year stamped on them are necessary for gauging the age of a bird at a quick glance. Rings are available through A.L.B.S in size 8 for ALBS Members. Size 8 rings are ‘year’ rings with a different colour allocated each year and are a necessary requirement for showing birds as ‘Young Birds’ in various shows throughout the year. These ‘year’ rings (size 8) will fit all varieties of lovebird but must be put on the young of Peachfaced somewhere between 7 and 12 days after hatching otherwise stress and damage to the leg may occur.

For the ‘White eye-ring’ varieties these ‘year rings’ can be put on at an older age but inspection of the young must be carried out regularly to see that the rings have not been thrown or pulled off.

These rings require clear records of ring placement must be kept so that the inherited genetic characteristics of young birds can be easily recalled. This will allow the owner of the birds to be able to decide at a later date, which birds are more genetically valuable for future pairings.

Once success has been achieved in hatching and raising young birds, the question How long should young birds be left with their parents? usually follows.

Young birds should be taken from their parents at about 2 weeks after the last young have left the nest. This is dependent upon several factors – the number of other pairs in the aviary and their tolerance towards the young of other pairs attempting to re-enter the wrong nest box or the tolerance of their own parents who may be ready to nest again, if they haven’t already done so.

This is where the regular observations of the owner can determine whether or not the young birds need to be relocated for their own safety. Placing the young in an all wire cage within the aviary will often result in the continuation of the young being fed by the cockbird while the hen is allowed to resume her nesting duties for the next clutch.

How can I tell if the Lovebirds that I have bred are ‘quality’ birds?

By comparing with the results of other people’s labours we can assess whether we have ‘keepers’ or ‘sellers’.

Birds should have at least attained their adult plumage before being considered as potential breeders. To put these birds to the test they should be entered in the Table Shows held by the A.L.B.S. at their bi-monthly meetings where they will come under the scrutiny of a show judge. The judge will be more than willing to discuss any points that he/she has as constructive criticism of a particular bird and give some ideas on what to look for when trying to decide on a particular bird’s worth.

The African Lovebird Society promotes the showing of birds as a way of encouraging exhibitors to strive for improvements in the various lovebird species.

As mentioned above, shows are an excellent place for newcomers to make comparisons with other breeders results and as is often the case there will be some pleasant surprises with birds that were considered second rate actually winning sections or major prizes. One way that I approach showing is that even if you think that your birds are not as good as you would like, you are at least providing some competition for those breeders that always seem to collect all the prizes.

Where can I sell my spare birds?

This is common question at the beginning of the next season when the aviaries are full and you want to start breeding again. Selling birds through the A.L.B.S. magazine or at meetings is one avenue. Another way is to make yourself known to the local pet shop or bird dealer who may take birds from you, providing you can supply quality birds. One pet shop that I deal with has great success at selling birds as a breeding pair.Another way is to use Internet sites such as Gumtree and/or Pet Link.

Most people will pay a slightly inflated price for a breeding pair, pairs that have bred for me or birds that have paired up voluntarily. I usually sell breeding pairs after about three seasons, opting to breed from the best of their young or breaking up the pairs if the don’t perform to expectations.

Should lovebirds be wormed, how often and what is the best method?

My personal experience is that in breeding lovebirds for the past eight years I have only once given my birds a worming solution. At the time I believed my birds to be worm free but was interested to see if this would have any effect. I had not previously wormed the birds because I had not suffered any unusual multiple losses.

For the one time that I did use a worming mixture I used ‘Hapivet’ which is water soluble whereas other mixtures need to be given by crop needle if you are to be sure that each bird gets the recommended dose. I chose Hapivet because it is water-soluble and the method I used to administer this to the birds was to remove their water dish in the morning and supply the solution later in the day when they had become thirsty.

If worm infestation is a suspected cause of bird fatalities then a vet should be consulted as soon as possible after the death of a bird because if worms are not the problem then a check can be carried out for any viruses that may have a short life span in a dead host.

There are likely to be many more questions, some general and some specific, that will arise from time to time but I have tried to cover the more general ones that apply to newcomers and/or those that have for some time been involved with the care and breeding of Lovebirds. The answers above are from my personal experience and other breeders may respond differently.

Why not come along to a meeting to discuss more particular question relating to genetics etc.

Recommended Reading

• Lovebirds – Owner’s Manual and reference guide , by Dirk Van den Abeele ,Publisher about pets.
• Lovebirds Compendium by Dirk Van Abeele ,Publisher about pets .
NB these Books may need to be sourced from the Publisher directly as they are difficult to find locally.

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